Although state lottery ads are not regulated by the FTC or the Better Business Bureau, the press, particularly television, has not stepped in to play a watchdog role. One would be hard-pressed to find a TV station that explains the insane odds against winning when showing lottery drawings on the 7 o'clock news or that reports on state lottery ads with the same vigor with which it peers into political campaign commercials. There have been some exceptions, but the trend veers away from intense scrutiny.

The euphoric side of lotteries does of course fit better into our common television format: One winner jumping and screaming plays better than 20 million poor saps kicking the floor after they lose; a busty woman picking glowing balls out of a hopper has more appeal if there isn't a voice in the background explaining the futility of the charade. But another explanation for this one-sided coverage deserves consideration. State lotteries spend more than half a billion dollars a year on advertising. And, like lottery advertisers who can justify their machinations by the greater good created in the long run (manipulative advertising may be bad, but it does help education), the news media have the same argument on hand.

Unfortunately, the propaganda is getting through to Americans. According to a July 1999 poll by the Consumers Federation of America and Primericam, 27 percent of Americans believe that winning the lottery is their "best chance to obtain half a million dollars or more in [their] lifetime." This is a grim statistic that would surely change if states were to cancel their lottery ads and instead publicize the wonders of compound interest: $50 invested weekly with a 9 percent return would yield over $1 million in 40 years.